In an attempt to determine whether energy-efficient lighting is as awful as many believe it to be, or whether some energy-efficient bulbs might cast an appealing light on a bedside table or a living room wall, The New York Times asked several manufacturers to provide samples of their products. The bulbs had to work in a screw-in base and be appropriate for indoor use, and manufacturers were asked to choose models they believed were closest in light and color to traditional incandescents.
Once the bulbs were collected - 21, including 14 compact fluorescents - a panel of staff members at The Times was asked to judge the quality of the lights. Identical ceramic table lamps with plain white shades were placed at the ends of a long table, one with a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb for comparison.
The first compact fluorescent tested, an n:vision Soft White manufactured by TCP for The Home Depot, evoked a collective groan. Although some liked its brightness and whiteness and the way its outer shell hid the coil and made it look more like a traditional incandescent bulb, others dismissed it as harsh, comparing it to hospital lighting.
Sylvania's Bright White Designers Choice was even less popular. Panelists decried the color as sickly and gluelike As other compact fluorescents were tried, the complaints grew louder. G.E.'s Energy Smart Daylight 15-watt bulb looked "icky frigid blue." Sylvania's Micro-Mini evoked a rainy day. One tester said the MiniBulb from MaxLite "makes me queasy."
The slight buzzing emitted by many of the compact fluorescents, including G.E. Energy Smart bulbs, Sylvania's Designers Choice, and TCP's Spring Light/Soft White, irritated panelists, as did the time it took for some bulbs to light and the flickering that sometimes ensued once they did.
Some judges were enthusiastic about a dimmable compact fluorescent, the G.E. Energy Smart Dimmable, given that such bulbs have, until recently, been hard to find. But rather than moving smoothly from dark to light, as incandescents and halogens do, it functioned more like a bulb with three settings: high, low and off.
Another object of excitement was the Pharox bulb (upscalelighting.com) from Lemnis Lighting, which uses a light-emitting diode, or L.E.D. This technology, which works by illuminating a semiconductor chip, is more efficient than compact fluorescent lighting. But because L.E.D.'s emit directional rather than diffuse light, they are typically implanted in flat surfaces like walls or light panels.
Not all the bulbs were met with negativity. Panelists favored the light cast by halogen bulbs (including the Daylight Plus and the BT15 from Sylvania, and G.E.'s Edison 60), which last twice as long as incandescents.